We always say it is a great pleasure to talk in this place, but today it is actually a great honour. It is a remarkable occasion, and it is very fitting to commemorate the Armistice in this way.
I start by paying tribute to my British Legion branches in Ilkeston and Long Eaton for their relentless selling of poppies, aided by cadets. I will join them on Friday and Saturday to add to their collection, I hope. Like every other constituency, I am sure, mine is full of poppies of different sizes, made out of different materials, be they made of paper, knitted, made from the bottom of plastic bottles sprayed red, or khadi poppies. Every single type of poppy is around. I am sure that the schoolchildren, seeing the swathes of poppies everywhere, will be inspired to look into the history of the first world war, and hopefully it will help them to remember and appreciate what happened.
The commemorations have really captured the imagination in many different ways. Last Friday, I attended a performance of a very humbling and moving piece called “Standing in Line”. It is a story of the great war, but specifically about Albert Scrimshaw, one of the performers’ great-uncles who bravely marched to war but never came home. He died at Passchendaele, and left a widow in Derbyshire who never remarried.
Two local people did come back, one of whom was the great-great-uncle of my hon. Friend Mr Seely. He was called Major-General Jack Seely. He was the MP for Ilkeston from 1910 to 1922, and Secretary of State for War in 1912. He was the only serving Cabinet member to go the front in 1914 and still be there in 1918. He took part in one of the last great cavalry charges in history on his beloved horse, Warrior. Many people think that the play “War Horse” is based on the character of that horse. The other great political war hero that Erewash can lay claim to is Lord Houghton of Sowerby, who was born in Long Eaton. He survived Passchendaele, unlike Albert Scrimshaw. Lord Houghton had a distinguished political career, but is quoted by Lord Graham in Hansard as describing Passchendaele in one word—“mud”. I have talked about three people whose stories we know, but across my constituency, on every war memorial, as other Members have said, there is name after name—sometimes more than one with the same surname—of those who gave their lives for our future.
Members have touched on the contribution that women made. My right hon. Friend Anna Soubry talked about the Chetwynd munitions factory. Some constituents of mine who went to work there lost their lives because of the industrial explosion. Women also worked at Stanton ironworks, making casings for shells. In the 1939-to-1945 war, they made concrete air raid shelters. Pressed concrete is still made at Stanton today for smart motorways and HS1, and hopefully HS2, so production continues. The suffragettes were great in the way that they campaigned for women to have the vote, but, to me, it would have been incomprehensible if politicians had not given women the vote after women gave so much in the great war.
I will briefly touch on something very personal, and move on to the second world war. We have talked about not being able to remember the first world war or talk to the people who lived through it. Last Sunday, I was polishing my father’s medals for him to wear next Sunday as he watches the service on TV; sadly, he is no longer well enough to go to any commemoration. He has a Burma Star. My sister and I tried to encourage him to write his story down, and he wrote some scribbled notes, but sadly, because of his stroke, he can no longer communicate, so once again a whole story is lost. It made me realise that nobody under the age of 90 will have experienced the second world war. Obviously, we have lost the last surviving participant in the first world war. We need to make sure that we can capture history at first hand before it is too late. We always say “Lest we forget” and “We will remember them”, but let us make sure that we say those phrases with great meaning, and that we remember them for many years to come.